Near the center of the largest city of St. Charles County sits a quiet little plot of ground that transports a visitor to an earlier time when many of its residents were enslaved people. Samuel Keithly brought his family and property to what is today’s City of O’Fallon, in the early
1800s at the same time that the friends and followers of American pioneers like Daniel Boone, Jacob Zumwalt and Francis Howell were settling the area. Keithly was one of the largest slave owners in St. Charles County according to the U.S. Slave Schedules of 1850 and 1860. Among those slaves were John Rafferty and his sisters Ludy, Elsie and Lizzie according to oral history.
In 1855, a German born attorney named Arnold Krekel, purchased 320 acres of land on which he platted a town named O’Fallon, naming it after the railroad magnate John O’Fallon in hopes that it would become a stop on the westward push of progress. He set up his younger brother Nicholas as the Station Agent and Postmaster, giving him credit as the town’s founder. This created the unlikely neighbors of the Keithlys and the Krekels, with yet one common denominator. Both Samuel Keithly and Arnold Krekel owned slaves in 1860. Yet there their stories parted. Arnold Krekel, President of Missouri’s Constitutional Convention would go on to sign its’ Emancipation proclamation ending slavery in the State on January 11, 1865.
Samuel Keithly didn’t free any of his slaves. Oral tradition states that he gave the land that we call Sage Chapel Cemetery to his slaves, where they worshiped in a field of Sage. We do know that in 1881, his daughter Mahala and her husband Jasper Castlio legally transferred property that included a small church building of the African Methodist Episcopal Church on today’s Sonderen Avenue and the cemetery which lay at its southern
terminus to three A.M.E. Trustees. At the same time there was a traveling minister with the A.ME. Church Conference named Jefferson Franklin Sage that preached along the route of today’s Interstate 70 between the city of St. Charles and further west in Jonesburg. He would preach there for many years before moving on to Kansas in the late 1890s. And by that time, there were two other black churches along today’s Sonderen Street, where a large African-American community lived.
Wishwell Baptist Church was begun in 1891 and was a plant of Hopewell Baptist Church that had begun in the 1850s south of Wentzville on the Boone’s Lick Road. Wishwell was near the creek, on the east side of Sonderen, close to Sage Chapel Church. The other African-American Church was Craven’s Methodist, begun in 1871, near the corner of Elm and Sonderen. Next to Craven’s, on the corner, was the town’s African-American school, and across the street was the “Colored Odd Fellow’s” lodge that met in Willis Thornhill’s house until Henry Obrecht purchased the property in 1910. All of these lay on today’s Sonderen Avenue, which ran north to south from the Wabash Railroad to Sage Chapel Cemetery near the former Keithly plantation. This was also the dividing line between the property of the Krekel Addition and the former Keithly’s until 1951 and the City’s annexation of property. This was the line for segregation.
Even though all three of these African-American Churches are no longer standing, and the buildings that once housed the black school and the Odd-Fellows lodge are largely
remodeled, Sage Chapel Cemetery still exists. Significant in today’s world where such places are so often lost and forgotten. A peaceful and quiet testament to a difficult time and such families as Hayden, White, Edwards, Thomas, Rafferty and Ball. While many of the community of African Americans left O’Fallon in the late 1950s and early 1960s in search of better job opportunities for their families, some remained. And while many of Sage Chapel’s residents died living in St. Charles, St. Louis or even as far as New Orleans, they were brought home to Sage Chapel when they passed. Eventually all three churches would use Sage Chapel to bury their families.
Today the City of O’Fallon sees that the grass is cut, trees cut and that Sage Chapel is well maintained. The City truly understands that this place has a collective memory that is an integral part of its’ City’s rich history. Its’ Historic Preservation Commission shares in this mission and is working to see that Sage Chapel is preserved for future generations.
Members of the community are working to see it placed on the National Register of Historic places. One of the largest cities in Missouri, O’Fallon is setting an example of how to honor its history, even the more difficult stories. This in turn leads to a greater understanding and a richer dialogue for everyone. Thank you O’Fallon, Missouri, a great place to live!
Today research tells us that Sage Chapel Cemetery has 38 marked burials, yet is estimated to have an 115 grave sites on this small one acre which lies next to O’Fallon’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5077 at 8500 Veterans Memorial Parkway in O’Fallon, Missouri. It is estimated that nearly twenty percent of its burials were former slaves. To watch a video by O’Fallon’s Communications about Sage Chapel Cemetery CLICK HERE.
This is the story of a St. Charles County slave that risked his life to “do the right thing” and has been famously immortalized in the Emancipation Memorial, also known as the Freedman’s Memorial and sometimes referred to as the “Lincoln Memorial”, a monument in Washington, D.C..
Born in Virginia, in 1816, Archer Alexander was a mulatto son of Salley, a slave on Reid’s farm. When he was six years old, he leaves the Reid farm and moves to the Smith farm with his mother. The next year, Mr. Smith died, and his widow marries David Farrell, and Salley becomes the property of Ferrell in Widow Smith’s dowry. Salley also gets married, as is slave custom, by jumping the broom, with Aleck Alexander. With that, Archer is indentured to the Alexander family. A few years later, in 1828 or 9, the Alexander family moves to Missouri, but soon returns to Virginia, and he is sold to the Ferrell family. Buying and selling of property continues, and Archer first is sold to Louis Yosti, then to Richard Pitman, son of David Pitman, in St. Charles County.
He had been sold because when he was young, he was considered “too uppity” and was sold as punishment. This separates him from his own family forever. When asked at the end of his life if he still remembered his mother, Archer replied, “Yes, sir, I remembers her like yesterday. Seems like I never forgets her, nohow. ‘Specially when trouble comes, and I’ve had a heap of that” Here, at the Pitman farm Archer meets Louisa, and they raise 10 children.
In February of 1863, Archer becomes one of America’s heroes, when he informs the Union Troops in St. Charles County that the Railroad bridge has been tampered with and undermined so that it will collapse as soon as a train passes. With this bold action, Alexander ran under the cover of darkness, five miles to inform the Union troops. Krekel’s “Dutch”- so called because they were German emigrants – oversaw guarding the Peruque Creek bridge, just west of O’Fallon. Archer Alexander is suspected of having alerted and of somehow betraying this information when the bridge did not collapse! Knowing that he was in mortal danger, Archer manages to escape and flee to St. Louis.
“Under the best of circumstances, the best condition of slavery was worse than the worst condition of freedom—I doubt if a man or woman could be found who would exchange freedom, such as it is, for the old relation under the best master that ever lived” He thinks to himself, “Go for your freedom, ef you dies for it”. Archer Alexander.
Slave-catchers captured Archer and took him to a boarding house to spend the night before being taken to a new master in the South, as punishment for his actions. Instead of settling for a continued life of slavery, Alexander miraculously climbed out of a high window and avoids a ravenous dog long enough to slip away from his pursuers. His desire for freedom allows him to reach St. Louis and secure his freedom.
Archer’s son Thomas had escaped and joined the U.S. Colored Troops, recruited under German immigrant George Senden, on Main Street in St. Charles. He would later die “in action” during the Civil War. Disease which took a huge toll on soldiers, especially the Colored Troops because of the conditions that they lived under. Archer was grieved but proud saying “I couldn’t do it myself,” “but I thank the Lord my boy did it.”
In St. Louis, Archer meets Abigail Adams Eliot in a butcher shop. She’s the wife of a Unitarian minister named William Greenleaf Eliot. Eliot hires Archer to be his gardener. When he discovers Alexander’s story, the minister obtained an order of protection for Archer and attempts to purchase his freedom. Eliot helps Archer write a letter so that Archer can buy his freedom, because in 1847, Missouri’s laws had made it illegal to teach a slave to read or write. Eliot goes to Judge Barton Bates and offers him $600 for Archer Alexander.
Soon, however, slave catchers again attempted to abduct Alexander from the Eliot property- where he is under an order of protection. Three men, slave catchers came to the property and threatened Alexander’s life with pistols and daggers, cruelly beat him with clubs, knocked him down, stamped upon and handcuffed him, dragged him to a wagon and carried him to jail.
Eliot arranges to have Archer’s captors arrested on a military arrest warrant because what they had done was illegal, as Alexander was still under the Order of Protection. The slave-catchers, upon learning of their impending arrests, hastily flee St. Louis without Alexander. Eliot has negotiated for Alexander’s release and Alexander is freed once again when Captain Dwight issues orders for the Jail to do so.
Eliot is able then to obtain a full order of protection. But the political situation remains volatile. Though President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, it did not apply to slave-holding border states. In Missouri, the “peculiar institution” stood until January 11,1865, when Missouri’s Constitutional Convention under the leadership of Arnold Krekel, signed it.
When he’d recuperated sufficiently to travel, Alexander went by steamboat to Alton, Illinois, a free state. There he worked as a farmhand, saved his wages and waited. Six months later, Alexander returned to Eliot and deposited $120 in the Provident Savings Bank. It was a large sum as over the same period, a Union private would only have earned $78 at best.
He then sent word to Louisa, whose freedom he hoped to purchase. He wrote a letter to her owner. “My dear husband,”Louisa wrote back. “I received your letter yesterday, and lost no time in asking Mr. Jim if he would sell me, and what he would take for me. He flew at me, and said I would never get free only at the point of the [bayonet], and there was no use in my ever speaking to him any more about it. I don’t see how I can ever get away except you get soldiers to take me from the house, as he is watching me night and day.”
Eliot read Alexander the letter. He worried that Louisa, having sought to leave, might now be endangered. “Her life wasn’t safe if they got mad at her.” But Alexander had a back-up plan: Wary of writing again, Alexander arranges for his wife and as many children as possible to escape. William Eliot, sensing slavery’s imminent demise, cautioned Archer that the few months of freedom might not be worth the risks of flight.
On a moonlit night, Louisa and Nellie, the couple’s young daughter, climbed into an ox-drawn cart and hid beneath the corn shucks. A horseman soon rode by. He grilled the farmer: “Have you seen Louisa and Nellie?” “Yes, I saw them at the crossing, as I came along, standing, and looking scared-like, as if they were waiting for somebody,” the farmer coolly replied. “But I have not seen them since.” Mother and daughter arrived at Eliot’s before dawn. Alexander paid the German farmer $20. Soon they were reunited with two more daughters.
After the war finally ended, Eliza began to yearn for her former belongings. She went to her former master to retrieve them, and suddenly took ill. She died within two days. Her belongings were sent to St. Louis to Archer. Archer eventually remarried to a slave who also knew how to speak German.
President Abraham Lincoln and a freed African-American slave are depicted in a statue commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation in Washington D.C., with the photo of the slave based on Archer Alexander. About 1870, Eliot arranged for Alexander to be photographed. Eliot mailed the images to Italy, where artist Thomas Ball was sculpting a monument to Lincoln and emancipation. The funding for the memorial started when a woman in Virginia, Charlotte Scott, donated the first $5 she earned as a free woman for a monument honoring Lincoln’s proclamation. That started a fundraising effort among newly freed people that raised $16,242 — enough to build a memorial. The statue now sits in Washington‘s Lincoln Park and depicts Lincoln standing above a kneeling freed man holding broken chains.
Originally the slave was to be wearing a Union Cap and thanking Lincoln. The statue has been criticized as paternalistic, reflecting views of its time. Still, it remains significant as one of the first monuments to Lincoln funded entirely by formerly enslaved people. The freed man has the face of Archer Alexander. Neither Eliot nor Alexander attended the monument’s dedication in April 1876, and Alexander never saw the memorial for himself. Alexander died December 7, 1880 and, according to Eliot’s account, “his last words were a prayer of thanksgiving that he died in freedom.”
Watch O’Fallon Matters story on Archer Alexander https://youtu.be/4FfKhZRj7E0
The author used Crossroads by Steve Ehlmann, The Story of Archer Alexander by William G. Eliot, and The Rattling of the Chains by Errol D. Alexander for this article.
On January 11, 1865, Arnold Krekel, serving as the elected President of the Missouri Constitutional Convention signed Missouri’s Emancipation Proclamation thereby ending the enslavement of all African American’s in Missouri. The Krekel family were part of the huge wave of German immigrants that came in the 1830s. Their journey was a difficult one. Arnold Krekel’s brother Nicholas recalled the journey “In the fall of the year 1832 we sailed from Bremen. It took about three months, we landed at New York, went up the Hudson River to Albany, and from Albany to Erie by canal. Intending to go to Cleveland Ohio from there and to Missouri. On arriving at Erie, there was so much ice in the lake that we could not make the trip, so we went overland to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, a distance of 160 miles. Mother, my sister Katherine (11 years), myself (Nicholas Krekel) rode in the wagon. Father, my three oldest brothers, Godfred [sic], Arnold and Frank walked. On this overland trip my mother took cold which continued to get worse when coming down the Ohio River, so we landed at Louisville, Kentucky to get medical assistance and religious consolation. She died there on December 14, 1832 and was also buried there. Three years later Arnold went there to find his mother’s grave but the city had been built beyond it. The voyage across the Ocean took 9 weeks, the overland trip from Erie to Pittsburgh took about 3 weeks. After her burial we continued our way to St. Louis. On arriving there we put up at the William Tell house on Main Street, a two-story stone building.”
Arnold Krekel was born in the small village of Berghausen, by Langenfeld in the Rhineland “near Cologne on the Rhine” and was seventeen years old when he made the journey. Born on March 12, 1815 to Franz Leonard Krekel (1783-1862) and Maria Catherine Schumacher (1779-1832), he was their second son in a family with nine children. His family would settle in the far southwestern tip of St. Charles County near Dutzow, a small German village in Warren County, where Gottfried Duden had lived. Duden was a friend of Arnold’s father and had authored A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North
America in 1829, inspiring thousands of Germans to immigrate to the U.S.
There his father purchased U.S. Congress land from the government, and purchased a house built by a previous squatter. While his oldest brother Gottfried, a farmer, purchased adjoining land, Arnold was turning eighteen and would strike out in new directions and make changes in the world. He would first attend the St. Charles College in the old city of St. Charles, fifty miles away, where he would meet the Americans. This was a school filled with the “old families” wealthy with property and slaves. There his connections with society began, as he studied law. Familiar with the process of surveying, he also grew his network of those actively involved in the growing city.
His religious views took him in another direction as well, as a member and one of the original 36 members of the Friends of Religious Enlightenment in 1838. The 29-year-old man was a member of the Association of Rational Christians, or Frei Denkers (Free Thinkers) in 1845 when Friedrich Muench performed his marriage to 28-year-old German born Ida Krug. Her father, was a wealthy physician in the Dutzow community, who had come with the huge Giessen Emigration Society back in 1834. They began married life in St. Charles where Arnold had already taken an active role. He had been elected a Justice of the Peace in 1841, and as a surveyor, and lawyer, he was involved in property deals all over the area. After his friend William Eckert died in 1845, former Secretary of State William Pettus had hired him to survey Eckart’s land. Eckert was the son-in-law of Francis Smith, whose estate Krekel would purchase 320 acres of land from ten years later.
Arnold’s law career began in St. Charles after being admitted to the Bar in 1845. As the City’s attorney and prosecuting attorney this brought him into close connection with the City’s rapidly expanding and prominent population. In 1852, Krekel is a rising star, as he wins the race for a seat in Missouri’s House of Representatives, the first German to be elected to Missouri’s House. He had run a campaign using his newly created newspaper, Der Demokrat, which was the first German newspaper in St. Charles County. While Krekel’s business associates were wide, he was still very proud of his German heritage and his closest friends, like Friedrich Muench and Emil Pretorius were examples. In 1853, he attended the North Missouri Railroad Convention in St. Charles, where St. Louis businessman and philanthropist John O’Fallon was also in attendance. On August 6, 1856, he surveyed and laid out a plat of a town on the 320 acres he had purchased from Smith, calling it “O’Fallon” hoping that the North Missouri Railroad would create a station. The need for wood and water at certain distances were necessary for the engines. And the U.S. Postal Service had announced that station stops would also be the locations for Post Offices.
Arnold established his younger brother, Nicholas, as the first resident of this new town of O’Fallon, with a house and property of his own. Nicholas served as the town’s founder, Postmaster and the Station Agent for the railroad all the while running his own mercantile. Nicholas would later oversee the Public sale of the lots in O’Fallon, on July 22, 1870. It was the intention of Nicholas and his wife Wilhemina (nee Moritz) to see the Catholic Church established in O’Fallon. Arnold was busy elsewhere as he had been nominated for the office of Missouri’s Attorney General in 1856.
As the state headed for the crisis over slavery, Krekel the abolitionist was a radical voice and leader among the Germans. The U.S. Slave Schedule shows him to have one thirty-
year old male mulatto living in the household in 1860, but he was not alone in this regard, as there were several German families in St. Louis, St. Charles, Warren and Franklin Counties that also owned or rented their servants as well. Most were of the belief, that until the practice of slavery was abolished, they could provide a much better living environment for the African-Americans than they would encounter in the south. He attended the Republican National Convention in May of 1860 with his friend Muench, where Germans were the only foreign born were in attendance. This gave the nomination to Abraham Lincoln for President. Up until that time, Krekel like many other German immigrants, were Benton Democrats in their politics, but the parties had shifted with the issues of immigration and slavery. In 1861, Krekel was appointed Provost Marshall for St. Charles, Warren and Lincoln counties. Provost Marshalls were established only where the local government was either failing to or refusing to meet the needs of the local citizens. Things were in turmoil and one of the most striking acts was when members of the Board of Directors of the same college where Arnold had been a student, and studied law, the St. Charles College, refused to take an Oath of Allegiance. Krekel threw out the entire board and turned the school into a hospital – for Union Troops in December of 1862.
Krekel was serving as a Colonel in the Enrolled Military Militia. His troops’ career is storied with unfortunate events that are best explained in the annals of a war that rocked the country. His Home Guards, was where his involvement brought Germans into action at the Camp Jackson affair in April of 1861. The Union soldiers managed to secure the Arsenal and rifles that could have fallen into southern hands. His troops were next called into action as Federal troops in July 1861, and while away in maneuvers in western Missouri, Krekel’s troops were accused of marauding Confederate sympathizers’ homes. Back in St. Charles County, his troops were placed in charge of guarding the crucial Peruque Creek bridge, just west of O’Fallon, which enabled vital rail transport.
Arnold’s younger brother Nicholas, who had served in the Mexican War, was a Captain in the Home Guards, back in O’Fallon.
In 1862, Arnold served as Vice President of the State’s Radical Emancipation Convention. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 did not cover Missouri because it was a “slave state” and one of three that did not secede from the Union.
When the Civil War began, Missouri’s plans for gradual emancipation infuriated the Radical Republicans, who wanted slavery abolished immediately. They took their grievances to Lincoln, who refused to take sides in Missouri’s politics, which infuriated them even more. Provisional Governor Gamble offered to resign, but the First Constitutional Convention would not accept it. Gamble died in office on 31 January 1864. Missouri’s radicals arranged for elections and for a new Constitutional Convention in November 1864, where they elected Thomas C. Fletcher Missouri governor.
Constitutional Convention of 1864
Arnold Krekel, a Democrat, was elected President of the new Constitutional Convention that convened in the Mercantile Library in St. Louis on January 6, 1865. On January 11, 1865 the convention, by a 60 to 4 vote, abolished slavery in the state with no compensation for slave owners. A month later the convention also adopted the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution to abolish slavery throughout the U.S..
On March 31, 1865, shortly before his assassination President Lincoln appointed Arnold Krekel as Federal Judge for the Western District of Missouri. On September 17, 1866, Arnold who was long a proponent for public education, would help establish Lincoln University, Missouri’s first African-American college. For more than ten years, Krekel and his family lived in Jefferson City where he would lecture at the University for free. He was a member of the Board of Directors, and elected President of the Board in 1883. From 1872 until 1887, he also taught at the newly established School of Law at the University of Missouri, in nearby Columbia. He served as a Federal Judge for 23 years, and only retire when his health began to fail.
The family would continue to live in Jefferson City for many years. There his wife Ida,
mother of his six children, Laura, Alfred, Franklin, Hilma, Alma and Walter, passed away in 1870. They had lost two sons as young children, Walter when he was two, and Franklin at age 6. By 1880 he had gone to live with his oldest daughter, Laura, who had married Louis Schmidt, still in Jefferson City. In November, Arnold at age 65, remarried to Mattie Perry of Kansas City. Early in 1888 Krekel resigned his Judgeship because of illness, and he and his wife had moved to Kansas City. In July of 1888, Arnold Krekel passed away from Bright’s Disease, a kidney ailment, in Kansas City. His body was brought home to Saint Charles by his brother Nicholas and was laid to rest in the City’s Oak Grove Cemetery. A German emigrant’s amazing career was memorialized by his close friend Emil Pretorious as many mourned his loss.
Sources for this post are Krekel family papers, Dictionary of Missouri Biography and Crossroads by Steve Ehlmann.